After Alec experiences a devastating loss, he takes the Black out west, where a group of Native Americans believe he fulfills their prophecy for the end of the world.
Last but certainly not least, a book that may or may not end with the actual apocalypse. No, I’m not being hyperbolic. The actual. Apocalypse.
But we have a ways to go before we get there.
This book picks up not too long after the end of The Black Stallion and the Girl, with Alec still thinking about his place in the world and his goals as a rider, breeder, and trainer. He also reflects on his physical ailments after five years or so spent as a jockey. Like anyone with prolonged exposure to horses, his body is a wreck.
Anyway, he thinks about a new filly they have running, that they named Pam’s Song, after Pam. Which. Pam left A MONTH AGO how did they have time to do that??? Did they change her name with the Jockey Club?
A little over three months ago she had been a nonentity in the Hopeful Farm Stable, a good-looking sort of big lazy filly, one of many at the farm, promising but not proven. Then they had raced her conservatively in three races where the competition had not been tough, and she had won all of them.
The timeline and logistics here are just baffling to me, because this had to have been during the last book except they never mention that Alec is racing other horses and his moves are pretty well accounted for and seriously their whole business model is just fucked. Not only does it not make sense, but it changes from book to book.
The race is again during hideous weather that really would never actually have a race.
The snow had stopped falling but the gale-force wind almost swept him out of the saddle.
Anyway, during the race the saddle slips and Alec almost dies but he makes it through, thought the filly does not finish in the money. Alec reflects briefly that Henry is going to blame the saddle slipping on him being inattentive at the start of the race, not Henry not cinching it up properly, which is kind of the frosting on the whole “Henry has become a gaslighting, abusive asshole” storyline that’s been going for a few books now.
Alec heads back to the farm and thinks more about his life.
Satan nickered and came to the iron bars of his stall, eager for attention. Even after so short a time away from the farm, Alec was impressed by Satan’s size. He had put on more weight and was huge compared to the Black, so massive, so powerful in chest and shoulders.
YOU GUYS SATAN’S BACK. TEAM SATAN FOREVER!
Anyway, he’s not really back, I’m just excited that Alec remembers he exists. Even if Alec continues to fat shame him.
While he’s taking care of the farm, he picks up the newspaper, and sees an article on the front page about the death of four young American women in a car crash in the Alps and…yep, you guessed it, one of them was Pam.
Here’s where I have to take a serious moment and acknowledge that Pam’s character was based on Walter Farley’s real daughter Pamela, who really did die in a car crash in Europe, and it was a horrific and devastating thing for him to go through. That’s not something any parent should have to endure. So I want to make clear that when I mock Pam and/or the events of this book, I’m reacting only to the characters and the writing, ok? Ok.
So: Pam is dead, and Alec has an actual mental breakdown. I know I sort of joked about him losing it in The Black Stallion and the Ghost but he actually totally has a break with reality here.
He continued screaming Pam’s name but the cries from his throat were nothing but a funnel of white in the cold, cold air…He lay in the snow in a frightening state of disintegration. His distress over the loss of Pam was fearful, but he knew something was wrong with his mind, something that had been triggered by his tragic loss. He could feel it.
He comes back to himself many hours later, and he’s driving a truck and horse trailer through a snowstorm. Actually, he doesn’t realize he’s driving a horse trailer at first, he just thinks he’s driving the truck, even though it skids out a number of times. He looks in the rearview mirror and that’s when he sees the horse trailer. Which. NO. That has to be among the more unrealistic things that’s ever happened in these books, right?
He drives and drives and drives, and we cut back to Hopeful Farm, where Henry and Alec’s dad realize that he’s gone.
“I had Dr. Warson over to the house last night, and we talked about what we should do to find Alec.”
“Your friend, the psychiatrist? That’s crazy!” Henry said, concerned and angry. “What good is he?”
What an absolute scumbag Henry turned out to be. He went from charming and kooky and slightly grumpy to actively sabotaging Alec at every turn over the course of these books.
“[Dr. Warson, the psychiatrist] said we must realize what Alec has gone through since he first found the Black in that horrible shipwreck, which almost cost him his life. Then he had to spend all those months on that remote island until he was rescued. David said Alec’s been through several traumas, and it was a wonder to him, as a medical man, that Alec has been able to cope with his life as he’s done. It most certainly has not been any kind of a normal life for anybody, let alone a young man. Since he’s had the Black, he’s experienced one grim adventure after another.”
I feel smugly justified right now in my initial call that this whole series of books makes more sense if Alec is suffering from severe PTSD throughout.
Dr. Warson tells Alec’s father that they shouldn’t pursue Alec, because if they do, the results might be “tragic” which I think is him hinting that Alec might commit suicide?
Back to Alec, who drives until he reaches somewhere in the Southwest. He passes a number of Native Americans and his views on them are somewhere on the intersection of paternalizing, racist, and sort of grimly realistic. Like, he keeps thinking about how downtrodden they look but he also talks and thinks about how mysterious they are and it’s just weird and awkward.
He pulls the truck and trailer over to a mesa and gets out. And then he turns the Black loose. He has no plan for any of this. He’s acting on pure instinct and mental unbalance.
Then…I think the best possible explanation of what happens next is that Alec thinks he turns into a horse. He runs around with a herd of wild horses and um it’s really weird. In a really sad kind of way.
Throwing back his head, he uttered loud, wavering neighs to the distant horses. Then he broke into a run, his muscular legs moving rhythmically, effortlessly…So for a long while he was able to stay within sight of the wild horses and think of himself as one of them.
It’s not clear how long it takes before he comes back to himself, but when he does he realizes he’s in the middle of nowhere, with no plan, no food, no nothing.
Luckily, he happens across a young Indian boy, who first asks him if he’s one of the “loco” people who sound like hippies on a permanent acid trip. The boy tells him about a local prophecy.
“We must have patience to await the One who will lead us to a safe place while the rest of the world is destroyed. There we will live peacefully with each other until it is time to emerge and help create a new world.
I do not know what shape he will take but he will be riding the swift mount of Father Sun, a horse as black as the deepest blackness except for a small white spot in the center of his forehead. He will have great speed and magical powers. I will have no trouble recognizing such a horse.”
You get three guesses as to what happens next and the first two don’t count.
Yeah, the Black shows up, and he’s been fighting, and he has a new scar! On his forehead! That makes…wait for it…a small white spot on his forehead.
The boy decides that Alec is The One from the prophecy and freaks out and leaves. Alec is kind of baffled and confused but tries to follow but sort of fails at it? It’s not entirely clear whether he gets lost or goes in the wrong direction or what.
He and the Black come across a canyon, at the end of which are ruins that sound sort of Pueblo-esque. They enter this canyon and are boxed in by the loco people, and shit gets weird.
They were close enough now for him to make out the ornaments of bones, feathers and teeth they wore on their naked painted bodies. Their heads were shaved, their eyes heavy-lidded and colorless. They moved toward him in a huge mass, twitching their bodies from side to side and gibbering in a maniacal, feverish chant.
The loco people attack them by throwing rocks and things at them, and then physically attack them.
The Black bolted forward, but it was not to escape the milling mass of ghastly figures. He reached out for the nearest one, grabbing him with savage teeth and lifting him from the ground. He shook him vigorously before flinging him back to the earth.
It still doesn’t quite work, and this whole sequence is trippy and weird. The loco people chase Alec to the other end of the canyon, and they sort of go past the ruins to find a huge crater, with a road down to the bottom. Alec doesn’t want to go down, but the loco people chase them to the edge of the crater, and then start going down the path, so they go down, and through a sort of weird tunnel, and then:
He saw a great chamber, the size of a tremendous cathedral, oval-shaped and bathed in the golden rays of the late afternoon sun, which came through a long but narrow opening in the lofty heights above!
The cavern is also full of smaller caves, and the floor is carpeted with green grass, and there’s a stream running through it. Oh, and there’s an old man hanging out there who is NOT in good shape.
“I have been waiting for you all the years of my life,” the old Indian said. “You have come at last.”
So: this guy is the grandfather of the boy who found Alec earlier. He is dying. He is too weak to stand up and his body is covered in lesions and open sores. He tells Alec about the prophecy again, Alec denies it again, but then decides to go along with it in the hopes that the old man will tell him how to get out of the chamber.
Joke’s on him, the old man dies right in front of him and Alec…picks up the body and carries it to one of the caves? There are some really graphic descriptions of how sick the old man was and frankly I would not have touched him. He’s already lost in an underground cavern in the middle of the desert with no food, he does NOT need some unidentified illness on top of everything.
Anyway, he and the Black find a tunnel that he thinks will lead out, and it mostly does. He thinks the old man must have come in this way because he finds a torch that’s still warm. Because THAT makes sense.
The tunnel is not entirely the way out, because it’s partially blocked, and when Alec moves some of the rocks, he somehow triggers water to flow into the tunnel and honestly this part made NO sense. At all. Just know that somehow they went from squeezing through a tunnel and hopefully heading toward the surface to floating and almost drowning and then magically outside.
He finds the same boy from earlier, and makes it to the local village. This chapter is called “Hopeless People” and there’s a lot of squicky stuff about how Alec always imagined Indians to be a proud, fierce people and these people are profoundly poverty stricken, miserable, and without any direction. It’s somewhere in between obnoxious and mildly socially aware.
Like many others, who had read schoolbooks and stories, he had thought the lives of Indians were bright and colorful, as beautiful as the jewelry they made, as colorful as their paintings and ceremonies. Instead he had found them in poverty and sickness, living on scrubland, sweating all day to cultivate enough food to eat, and freezing at night in dilapidated shacks, clothed in rags and sleeping on dirt floors. Actually, from what he had seen they were not the chosen people at all, but among the most hopeless people on earth.
Regardless, they welcome him and he beds the Black down and goes to sleep…and then wakes up in the middle of the night.
Afterward Alec went outside to stand in the swiftly falling night, wondering how he could change these people’s minds about him and obtain their help. When the men returned, he would tell them that there was no need to go to the sacred pueblo. They could see that the world was not coming to an end, despite their fearful prophecy.
While he’s outside, he thinks he sees Pam, and he thinks that she’s warning him of danger. Then he notices that a blue light in the sky is getting larger and brighter, and he decides it’s a meteoroid.
With sick dread, Alec realized that the meteoroid was going to crash close by, and none of them had a chance of staying alive in the holocaust that must come! EARTHFIRE!
Emphasis definitely not mine. This is the point at which the book moves from “weird, but not out of a standard deviation of weird from a normal Black Stallion book” to “oh holy shit we are so far off the rails now there’s no going back.”
Here we go.
The meteoroid crashes. The Black freaks out. Alec smells burning and everyone from the village runs screaming. They see Alec mounted on the Black.
Somehow, what he was doing seemed strangely right to him, now. It was as if he were suspended in a dram, viewing everything quite calmly when he should have felt only fear in what he had to do…return to the sacred pueblo.
They start to flee back to the underground cavern, and Alec is in a sort of fugue state. People are screaming all around him, everything is on fire, and there are apparently “gases rising from the earth.” But he’s fine with it all. He’s just sort of riding the Black in a dream, heading back to the pueblo.
It’s entirely unclear what exactly is going on: there was a meteoroid crash, but there is also an earthquake, and there is also a lot of just random debris crashing around everywhere. At one point, while they are fleeing, they come across the loco people, who try to join them, but they are all killed when another big rock crashes or another chasm opens up or…I dunno, I was kind of picturing Frodo and Sam at Mount Doom here.
Finally, Alec staggered to his feet. “Running away, like dying, is easy,” he said aloud. “It’s the living that’s hard.”
Yes, Alec, because what a huge group of terrified people escaping the apocalypse need is fucking platitudes. Holy shit.
They travel for some indeterminate length of time and it’s all awful and terrifying and confusing. They get to the cavern, and they all settle in and rest for a bit.
The Black lowered his head to the water, and Alec heard the pulling suck of his lips as the fluid gurgled up the rings of his throat.
That is both the weirdest and grossest description I’ve ever heard of a horse drinking.
For reasons that are totally opaque to me, Alec leaves. He was like 3/4 of the way to believing this really was the end of the world and he really had led these people to safety…but he still decides to leave. He makes his way back to where he left his truck and trailer.
The light from the sun had moved down, reddening the way before them, when Alec reached his truck and trailer buried deep in sand and ash. He rode up to what remained of the hulking body of the engine, then alongside the flattened horse trailer, its body splintered into pieces strewn about the area.
See what I mean about having no idea exactly what kind of disaster this is?
Somehow, Alec makes it to a local emergency shelter in Flagstaff, Arizona, and that chapter starts with a news broadcast that notes that there are earthquakes all over the world, the most devastating ever recorded, and oh by the way, Alec Ramsay is here! Why the local news felt the need to insert that tidbit alongside “the world might be ending” is an open question.
Alec and the Black hang out at the shelter for a while, and the news keeps coming in and getting worse. I did a little bit of research on other big earthquakes, and the ones the book is describing would be among the worst that have occurred in the history of the world, and they’re happening all over the world at the same time for no discernible reason. The entire city of Moscow had to be evacuated. There was a quake on the east coast of the US that could be felt from Georgia to Canada.
Alec finally gets in touch with his parents and Henry; his father is too overcome with emotion to talk to him on the phone, so Henry gets on and reports that Hopeful Farm is in bad shape.
“Awful. We’re starting to clean up. Lots of work but it’s not hopeless. Most of the barns are down but fortunately the horses were outside. The house is okay and no one’s been hurt. There’s a deep fissure where the training track used to be. It’s awful but at the same time it’s a miracle that we’re alive.
Alec could barely make out the old trainer’s words when Henry added, “It looks like we’re goin’ to have to start all over again, Alec. An’ we’re lucky to be having a chance to do it.”
They have a brief talk about riding and handling horses for the joy of it, not to make money, and then this is, I swear to you, the end of the last book in the Black Stallion series.
The floor beneath Alec’s feet tilted as a sharp tremor came from deep within the earth.
Alec held on to the phone, knowing this too would pass.
“Henry, can you hear me?”
There was no answer.
WHAT THE EVERLOVING FUCK.
A sentiment that sums up both my feelings on this book and on most of them.
Well, what do you think? Was this a good way to end the entire series of twenty (!) books?
Do you think the world really did end, or was Walter Farley just being dramatic?
I’ve been going back and forth on this question for weeks now, and I still can’t decide what I think happened, and what I want to have happened.
Stay tuned in the next few weeks for some fun audience participation surveys on the whole series. I’ll also do a roundup post linking to all of my reviews, if you want to binge.